• Pop Culture Politics: Meet the Man Behind “The Most American Thing”

    By Herald de Paris Contributor's Bureau on May 18, 2010

    By Kirsten Brownrigg
    HUNTSVILLE, AL (Herald de Paris) –
    Move over, Fred Davis III—your demon sheep was just dethroned by a gun-toting cowboy who looks as if he rode straight out of Bonanza.

    At least, that seems to be the consensus among pundits, ever since filmmaker Ladd Ehlinger, Jr.’s political ad went viral on the Web.

    The spot has everything conservative dreams are made of:  guns, dog tags, the US Constitution, a horse, a 10-gallon hat, and a healthy dose of good, old-fashioned patriotism  all served up with a side of Southern accent.

    Or as The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel put it, “It’s like the Axl Rose lyrics in One in a Million came to life and ran for office.”

    Meanwhile, the subject of the video, Dale Peterson, is a virtually unknown Republican candidate seeking a virtually unknown position: Alabama Agricultural Commissioner.

    That’s all changing, of course. Peterson’s popularity has skyrocketed since the video’s unveiling, as equally incredulous liberals and conservatives rush to share it with friends on Facebook and Twitter.  So far, he’s even snagged a coveted spot on Glenn Beck’s radio show.

    Even MSNBC’s Hardballer Chris Matthews took note, saying the video just made Peterson history’s, “most well-known candidate for Agriculture Commission.”

    But while Peterson reaps the rewards from the ad’s catchiness, credit for the concept must go to its creator, Ehlinger—a filmmaker whom a friend affectionately dubbed “Alabama’s John Ford,” in reference to the famed director of so many John Wayne westerns.

    After only two meetings with the former Marine, Ehlinger says he sat down and wrote the script.

    “I decided to stick him on a horse, give him a gun, and make it a John Wayne movie,” he says. “Some jerks are saying, ‘Oh, it makes us look like rednecks!’ Well, maybe in New York you wouldn’t make an ad like that, but this is Alabama, and here, people ride horses and shoot guns.”

    When Peterson saw the ad, he “loved it,” Ehlinger says. “Because I was basically doing a portrait of him,” he explains. “Not a campaign ad, but a portrait.”

    Now Peterson’s “portrait” has politicos wondering if there’s something in Alabama’s water. After all, Ehlinger released it on the heels of Alabama gubernatorial candidate Tim James’ uber-patriotic “We Speak English” ad. But as one Gawker writer jokes, Ehlinger’s aggressively edited video puts other ads to shame, making the James spot look like it was produced by a “Commie terrorist.”

    We can anticipate more of its kind, too, as the summer heats up and the last primaries wind down. In states like Alabama, the candidate with the “R” next to his name can expect to win in November. That means primaries are crowded with countless eager, would-be nominees, all scrambling to make an impression on the voting public.

    That’s what makes videos like those produced by Ehlinger so hot right now: candidates want brisk, blunt and, whenever possible, boorishly bizarre.

    Ehlinger himself is a rare breed: a conservative-minded filmmaker. Or, more accurately, a libertarian one. He blames the scarcity of his kind on the conservative movement, who conceded the tug-of-war over pop culture decades ago. “To their utter loss,” he adds with a scoff.

    “I sincerely believe the reason why conservatives lost in such a dramatic way to Obama,” Ehlinger explains, “and why they lost the congressional elections with Mark Foley, is because they pretty much gave up on art.”

    Ehlinger suggests that most artists—and most people, really—are libertarians, but simply don’t know it yet. But the way he sees it, “libertarians are just crippled when it comes to marketing.”

    “What people see is men with beards going on and on about the gold standard, and it’s boring,” he quips.

    Since 2007, Ehlinger has directed “Flatland,” an animated flick bringing to life an 1884 science fiction novel by Edwin Abbot, and “Hive Mind,” which he describes as, “basically Rush Limbaugh versus zombies.” Then two months ago, he launched The FilmLadd Show, his own daily radio program, under the cheeky motto, “Liberty is hot.”

    In response to complaints the video is, “too ridiculous,” Ehlinger insists everything is fair game, as long as the director’s methods help the audience remember the message.

    “When you’re making a commercial, and you’re showing advocacy for an issue, you’re basically being a pamphleteer,” he says. “That goes all the way back to the founding fathers’ days, and you don’t get much more American than that.”

    When it comes to filmmaking, however, Ehlinger takes a slightly different approach. He says there’s an important distinction between a campaign ad and an art film.

    “I don’t think that a movie or a book or anything else should ever be disguised propaganda,” he says. “So I do have a problem with movies that have a veiled message that try to convince people of one thing or another. But with a campaign ad, you already know as an audience that you’re watching something that’s attempting to persuade you, so there’s no underhandedness.”

    Nevertheless, Ehlinger insists he’s not out to change the world with his film work or his radio show, but rather to raise the bar on political conversation.

    “I would like to see a higher caliber of discussion than what you get from talk radio,” he says. “Limbaugh and Hannity and all these guys—Hannity, especially, is not a deep thinker. I admire them for what they’ve achieved, but I’d like to see libertarianism be better represented.”

    Could FilmLadd be that voice for libertarians—his party’s counterpart of Hannity or Beck?

    “I’d like that,” Ehlinger says with a laugh, “although I’m not going to grow a beard.”

    Listen and join in to THE FILMLADD SHOW weekdays 2-4pm CT on WTKI, WEKI, Huntsville/Decatur, or by directing your browser to FILMLADD.COM, worldwide.

    [Article edited by Jes Alexander]

    Dr. Hernandez May 18, 2010

    I’d vote for him.

    Americana May 18, 2010

    Move over American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. We could have “Best of the Cowboys” and Mr. Peterson would be a winner.

    Randee mckee May 19, 2010

    I met Ladd on myspace before Flatland came out…which I have btw, and he is a bright, talented, funny , and lots of other good things, type of person who is up front and blunt in his views and opinions, but also respectful of others. These things are what makes me truly like and admire him for sticking to it all these years, and he deserves the attention and Kudos on the AD he made for Mr Peterson. Heck…he could even get me elected if I ever lost my mind and went into politics. The way he portrayed Mr Peterson, is as he said, the way it is in the south, and is reality, I even have the same make and model rifle Mr. Peterson has, and john Wayne used. The Ad is short , sweet and to the point, no fluff, no misdirection…hits the nail straight on the head, wish more would be like that. I would probably vote for Mr. Peterson even tho he is a Rep. lol. but thats the way I roll…i look at the person, not the political campsite they sleep at. KUDDOS to LADD….very well done!!

    Mel Z. May 19, 2010

    We need more like him.

    bob duryea May 21, 2010

    He would get my vote any day. This is what it will take using social media just as Thomas Paine used in writing “Common Sense” in evoking real change.

    Chuck May 22, 2010

    D Peterson for Homeland security!

    David May 30, 2010

    I’ve had the opportunity to work with Ladd years ago, and still occasionally get to talk with him.

    He NEVER stops thinking inside, outside, and everywhere else in regards to the box. I hope and pray for his success, as it is often hard to come by for such innovators.

    Congrats, Ladd, and keep it up!

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